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Pros: Strong engines; advanced clean-diesel version; well-balanced road manners; very upscale interior; comfortable seats (including third row); supremely spacious

Cons: Very pricey; poor fuel economy (for the conventional V8), steep learning curve for COMAND system

The 2012 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class is the automotive equivalent of a private jet. It's big, powerful, expensive and excessive. In short, it's everything that conventional wisdom tells us is wrong in choosing a vehicle. But that's probably because conventional wisdom doesn't have deep pockets or a large brood. For those who do, the GL makes perfect sense. It provides families who prefer (and can afford) to travel in an executive-level manner, all the creature comforts, safety and space one can imagine. So just because it's a large luxury people mover doesn't mean it's an impractical choice, especially when you consider its audience.

The 2012 GL-Class not only offers a long list of amenities, it also brings with it three-row seven-passenger seating. That means buyers aren't forced to step down to a non-luxury brand in order to make room for their four or more children. However, if all this passenger room is not something you plan to utilize regularly but you still yearn for the refinement and craftsmanship of a Mercedes SUV, the ML-Class is an excellent choice.

Fresh for 2012 are handful of minor revisions to the exterior and interior, the most notable being the newly standard LED daytime running lamps.

Comfort & Utility

The GL-Class delivers interior packaging in a way that is unique to the Mercedes brand. Even its practical features somehow feel luxurious. Materials are high in quality, and nothing feels cheap or rushed. The layout of the controls is enjoyably ergonomic, and there's a solid, tactile feel. The entire cabin is an excellent example of what fine craftsmanship should be.

Seating at all positions is comfortable and highly supportive. That includes the third row, too, which is generally compromised on other vehicles, even in the luxury class. The GL's front seats are particularly superb offering eight-way power, heat and driver side memory.

Interior space is cavernous and highly flexible, along the GL to change from grand people mover to serious cargo hauler by folding all the seats down. Really, it could carry just about any combination of passenger and cargo. An optional power liftgate makes the task of loading and unloading through the rear even easier.

Upscale features for the GL are in abundance, including dual-zone climate control, a multifunction steering wheel, leather upholstery and front and rear sunroofs, to name a few. Options are plentiful enough for anyone's tastes. Sure, the options will jack up the price considerably, but for those who want comfort and exclusivity, it's here for the taking.

Technology

Aside from refinement, Mercedes is well known for its emphasis on technological innovation, and the GL is appropriately fitted with its share of high-end electronics. One of the most impressive is the optional hard-drive-based voice command navigation system. Aside from providing mapping and traffic alerts, this system also integrates a rear-view camera as well as a digital music storage component.

Parktronic parking assist is a sensor-based system that helps drivers park in tight spaces, helping the low-speed maneuvering of this large vehicle feel easier.

The GL's base eight-speaker audio system with six-CD changer is very good, or you can upgrade to a high-end Harman Kardon surround sound system with USB connectivity. Either system can pipe audio to the optional rear DVD entertainment system. With headrest-integrated screens, passengers in the second and third rows can enjoy what feels like an in-flight movie experience.

There is one drawback on the tech front: Mercedes' COMAND system. This electronic interface controls many of the GL's user functions. It has a steep learning curve that can make it very frustrating to work with. Many find the system to be altogether unintuitive.

Overall, the GL is not the ultimate techno wonder from Mercedes, but it offers just the right dose of cutting-edge content to enhance the premium ride experience.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The GL-Class offers robust performance with three distinct engines, each tied to a seven-speed automatic transmission. Energy channels to the Mercedes-Benz 4Matic all-wheel-drive system for true all-weather capability.

The GL350 Bluetec is the cleanest and greenest of the GL offerings. It is powered by a 50-state-legal 3.0-liter clean diesel turbocharged V6 good for 210 horsepower and a very stout 400 lb-ft of torque. The GL350's diesel output characteristics make it a unique and efficient performer in the luxury SUV class. Fuel economy is 17 mpg city/21 mpg highway, giving the GL350 an Interstate cruising range of nearly 600 miles.

The GL450 utilizes a 4.7-liter V8 making 335 horsepower and 339 lb-ft of torque, mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy is 13/18 mpg. The GL550 is outfitted with a monstrous 5.5-liter V8 producing 382 horsepower and 391 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy is 12/17 mpg.

Setting aside the Bluetec variant, the gasoline-powered GL models (450 and 550) are generally more powerful and less efficient than others in the large luxury SUV segment.

Safety

On the safety front, the GL is equipped with an arsenal of airbags, including one at the driver's knee and side curtains that span all three rows. Also, every seating position has an active headrest to help reduce whiplash in the event of an accident.

Promoting sure-footedness is stability control and ABS. The GL also offers a Blind Spot Warning System, standard or optional depending on the model.

The GL-Class, however does not offer high-tech safety features such as Lane Departure Warning, Attention Assist and Night Vision with Pedestrian Detection that are found on other Mercedes models.

Driving Impressions

The GL-Class, above all else, delivers a very quiet, smooth and plush ride, ideal for long hauls and around-town family drives. Helping the cause is the available Adaptive Damping System, which adjusts shock settings based on road surface conditions. The GL's ride becomes softer or firmer accordingly.

The GL handles well despite being extraordinarily large and heavy. It actually drives smaller than it is and exhibits a good bit of confidence in corners. Body roll is minimal, and steering is quite responsive.

Although not intended for all-terrain use, the GL is very capable in inclement weather and challenging road conditions. A choice of 19-, 20- or 21-inch wheels give you the equipment to adequately manage rain, snow and ice.

The GL350 Bluetec's low-end torque allows it to accelerate quickly from 0 mph and to perform strong passing maneuvers on the highway. The diesel performance is a particularly good match for the GL's overall dynamics.

Other Cars to Consider

Infiniti Q56 - The QX56 has similar power to the GL-Class. Its lesser content is balanced by its greater interior space and lower price point.

Lexus LX570 - The big Lexus offers less interior space but better off-road capability. It's also more expensive.

Cadillac Escalade - The Cadillac has similar interior space but less power, and its style of luxury occupies a lower tier than the Mercedes.

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Every GL-Class model is strong in luxury, family friendliness and capability, but we think the GL350 Bluetec's clean diesel makes it the one to choose. The 350 delivers better acceleration and fuel economy than its gasoline-powered counterparts without compromising on space, content or comfort. You get the performance, efficiency and the many luxury highlights of the GL-Class, all while making one of the greenest and most socially conscious choices in the class.

 

Pros: Outstanding gas and diesel engines; sumptuous interior with all the toys; adult-friendly third row; excellent highway manners

Cons: Many desirable technology options cost extra

What's New: The GL-Class is all-new for 2013.

Introduction

A couple decades ago, the 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class would have been unimaginable among the Stuttgart brain trust. The carmaker offered the military-derived G-Class for SUV customers, of course, but Mercedes families drove station wagons with rear-facing third-row seats, and that's just the way it was.

Fast-forward to America in 2013, however, and it's obvious that wagons have been superseded by high-riding 3-row crossovers. Indeed, Mercedes already conceded this point with the first-generation GL-Class. But they've really taken the gloves off this time around, bidding a decisive auf Wiedersehen to the good old days with the completely redesigned, second-generation 2013 GL.

It's hard to exaggerate the epic scale of this vehicle. The 7-seat GL has the passenger space of a minivan, the ride of an S-Class luxury sedan and the acceleration of a sports car. It's got every techno-gadget in the book. There's even a completely absurd AMG version that costs $117,000 and makes 550 horsepower.

Not for the faint of heart, this Benz.

But then, that's kind of the point. Truth be told, the new GL is less a modern Mercedes wagon than it is a Cadillac Escalade with a thick layer of German performance, refinement and quality on top.

It may not be what Stuttgart traditionalists would prefer, but there's no denying the excellence of Mercedes' latest crossover creation.

Comfort & Utility

The 3-row, 7-passenger GL-Class is offered in four trim levels based primarily on engine choice: GL350 Bluetec (diesel V6), GL450 (4.7-liter V8), GL550 (same V8 with more power) and GL63 AMG (5.5-liter V8).

The technically entry-level GL350 Bluetec and GL450 come standard with 19-inch alloy wheels, air suspension, adaptive xenon headlamps, LED running lights and taillights, roof rails, MB-Tex leatherette upholstery, heated power front seats with adjustable driver lumbar, power-folding third-row seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, a sunroof, a power liftgate, iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity and the COMAND multimedia interface with a 7-in touchscreen.

Those are just the highlights, by the way.

Options include the we-can't-believe-it's-not-standard "keyless go" entry and ignition system, power-closing doors, a panoramic glass roof, leather upholstery, multicontour front seats with massage functionality, tri-zone climate control, Harman/Kardon premium sound, hard-drive-based navigation with digital music storage, a rear-seat entertainment system with monitors mounted behind the front headrests, an in-dash SD card reader ... you get the idea.

If you want it, chances are it's on the options list.

As for the GL550, it gets most of those options as standard and also features 21-in wheels and adaptive dampers. The GL63 AMG, meanwhile, gets the full AMG styling treatment inside and out: a sport-tuned suspension, bigger brakes and a cornering-enhancement system called Active Curve, which features electrohydraulically variable stabilizer bars.

Should you wish to take your GL off-road, there's also a 6-mode driving program selector with a Range Rover-style console knob for various kinds of terrain. A 2-speed transfer case with low-range gearing is included. Notably, this option is only available on GL450 and GL550.

In our interior evaluation, we deemed the GL's standard front seats so throne-like that the optional multicontour seats seem superfluous. Still, we suppose it's nice to get a massage on your way to pick up the kids. Glancing around from that plush driver seat, it's hard to find anything in the cabin that doesn't look and feel exceptionally nice. We'd give the S-Class sedan a slight edge in perceived quality, but it's very close.

The second-row seats offer limo-like legroom, and they power forward to facilitate third-row access. Speaking of the third row, it's one of the roomiest we've ever sat in, whether we're talking crossovers or minivans. Tall adults could ride back there all day. It's quite extraordinary.

We don't expect to see many GLs at Home Depot, but it may be reassuring to know that maximum cargo capacity is almost 94 cu ft.

Technology

We feel that Mercedes could be a bit more generous with standard technology features at this elevated price (e.g. keyless entry/ignition, navigation and premium audio). We can see holding back with the SLK roadster, for example, but the GL is so expensive that practically everything should come standard.

To be fair, though, every GL comes with the excellent COMAND multimedia interface. We appreciate this system for its crisp graphics and intuitive menu structure. And to be realistic, very few top-shelf Mercedes models are sold without a ton of options, so as long as consumers are willing to pay the price, our complaints will understandably fall on deaf ears.

Performance & Fuel Economy

Every GL features a 7-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive, though the GL450 and GL550 are eligible for the 6-mode off-road package, which adds a 2-speed transfer case with low-range gearing.

The GL350 Bluetec is powered by a 3.0-liter turbodiesel inline-6 that cranks out 240 hp and a beastly 455 lb-ft of torque. This is truthfully our favorite GL engine, as it whisks the nearly 3-ton crossover around effortlessly while returning an impressive 19 miles per gallon city/26 mpg highway.

The GL450 switches to a gasoline-powered, twin-turbocharged 4.7-liter V8 rated at 362 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque. You get more outright speed with the 450, and the twin-turbo V8 is amazingly refined, but fuel economy dips precipitously to 14/19 mpg.

If you want a gasoline engine, then, you might as well go all-out and get the GL550, which cranks up the turbo boost on that 4.7-liter V8 to the tune of 429 hp and 516 lb-ft. Fuel economy is barely affected at 13/18 mpg.

Finally, if you simply can't abide less than 500 hp, the GL63 AMG is here to save the day with a 5.5-liter, twin-turbo V8 that pumps out 550 horses, to be exact, and 560 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy isn't specified. Hey, if you have to ask ...

The GL's maximum towing capacity, incidentally, is a robust 7,500 pounds.

Safety

The 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and no fewer than 13 airbags, as well as a list of electronic driver aids so extensive that we simply suggest visiting the Mercedes website for more information.

We don't expect to see stateside crash tests of the GL.

Driving Impressions

By all rights, the GL-Class should drive like a school bus, because that's approximately how large this crossover is. But Mercedes has worked some magic with the GL's driving character, employing a light yet accurate steering system to great effect. We're not saying the GL is nimble -- far from it -- but it's not intimidating to drive either, and that's the important thing.

As for cruising comfort, well, this is where the GL really excels. The standard air suspension takes the bumps out of almost any surface, and the cabin remains library-quiet at speed.

Off-road, meanwhile, the new dual-range transfer case makes the GL a legitimate 3-row Range Rover alternative for more adventurous families.

Other Cars to Consider

Cadillac Escalade: Think of the Escalade as the GL's boisterous American cousin. It's a relatively cheap date, and you'll have a lot of fun.

Infiniti QX56: Based on the excellent overseas Nissan Patrol SUV, the QX is a legitimate off-roader, and its styling makes an impression like no other.

Lexus LX 570: The LX is getting on in years, but it still brings a wonderful V8 and 3-row seating to the table. Worth a look for the right price.

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Again, our favorite is the diesel-powered GL350. Big SUVs work best with diesels, as the amazing 26-mpg highway economy attests.

What do you think of the New GL-Class? Let us know in the comments below.

author photo

Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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